Character Backstories

  • I'm in the middle of trying to make my first draft of a game design document for a game that I want to make once I get out of college. Even though I've had the concept for the world and a lot of the characters for about 10 years now, the current format of the game has changed a lot. The game play concept has been coming along nicely but the characters are giving me trouble. I've had a lot of them for many years but outside of a core few I only had their names or what their personalities are like. What I'm really struggling with, is giving them all backstories.

    What do you all think makes a good backstory for a character? If possible please give an example. The example doesn't have to be from a game either, I'll take anything.

  • I’ve had a lot of good backstory and character details come from running through the Proust Questionaire from the character’s point of view. It makes you think about how your characters would approach the little things and bigger philosophical questions.

    As for good examples of backstories I would point to the first two seasons of Lost. It is a master class in using backstory to inform your main narrative. For example Locke’s backstory explains why The Island is so important to him and why he is so adamant that it has a great purpose for him which SPOILERS eventually becomes his downfall.

  • Global Moderator

    Characters are one of the hardest but also (at least for me) one of the most important part in stories/games. I find it hard to keep my characters different. Having them fighting for a similar goal makes them a bit one dimentional.

    When I studdied film creation at university we had some really good seminars on creating characters and so on. A good tip which had followed me since has been "Do not create a character from your own view". Just dont make characters from your view point and ideas. when making characters you bring in ideas, thoughts, agendas from your own opinions, rather base them on real people around you that you know. How do family members/friends react to things around you, what do THEY like, what makes them upset? what do they rant about at dinner etc etc?

    As said above, interview your characters and "find out" things about them rather than "make it up".

  • Character backstories are pretty hard to make, unless you have a solid world where to base those backstories to. It's good to have a good setting for the backstory, and build it from there. So the setting for the game and the game's world needs to be solidified, before you can truly make proper backstories for characters.
    From there, what you can do is leave it somewhat open ended, and highlight only some notable moments in characters past. You can fill in the gaps later on.

  • Adding on to what others have said: think about your characters less about having backstories, more about having histories. This is just a pretentious way of me saying that who they are is colored by their experiences, and their experiences are informed by the world they live in. You can't have a fleshed out character without a fleshed out world. Recognize that there are some things the player will never know about the character. There are some things YOU may never know about the character. Know the world your character is inhabiting, and know who the character is deep down. The rest should come a bit easier as you see how they react to what life throws their way. Does that make sense?